Anime review: Deadman Wonderland

His class slaughtered at the hands of a mysterious figure known as the Redman, Ganta Igarashi finds himself in front of a court, answering for a crime he did not commit. Despite his insistence that incriminating video evidence has been altered to frame him, Ganta is sentenced to serve time inside Deadman Wonderland, an experimental prison facility that provides both maximum security for its inmates and a source of revenue from visitors who only ever see the amusement park exterior. A stranger in a strange land, Ganta transitions from innocent student to battered and beaten newcomer at the bottom of the food chain before he unlocks his full potential as a Deadman and makes a name for himself as something of a hero to the other prisoners who wish to escape.

From the outset, Deadman Wonderland feels strikingly original. The combination of creepy amusement park and industrial cell blocks is handled surprisingly well. There are a number of crazies that Ganta encounters, with arguably the most important being the one he sees the least of - Tamaki, the apparent ringleader of Deadman Wonderland, who decorates the facility with giant stuffed animals and provides the inmates with candy that will extend their lives, provided they put on a good performance for patrons.

The first episode does what any good dark mystery should - presents a tense atmosphere of intrigue. We are introduced to Ganta and his plight, but for the most part the introductory episode poses the big picture questions, like who is the Redman and why is Ganta tied up in all of this? The second episode does a little bit to show off just how Deadman Wonderland operates, but in the most gruesome and unnecessarily bloody manner possible. As a whole, the show is bloody and violent. But more often than not, when characters die, there is a reason behind it. The gauntlet run presented in the second episode is neither here nor there, as the staggering body count does little more than to make Ganta more scared than he already was. Beyond that, the next couple of episodes take their time to adjust and redefine what the series is all about, but for the remaining episodes, the tone of Deadman Wonderland remains quite consistent.

Earning almost as much time in the spotlight as Ganta is his longtime friend Shiro, a quirky girl with seemingly uncanny luck when it comes to surviving the horrors of Deadman Wonderland. Shiro brings a much needed sense of hope and humor to the table, and while she is not always the brightest, she makes a fun parallel to Ganta's increasingly serious nature. Beyond that, there are only a handful of side characters of any real importance. Crow is another Deadman who Ganta goes toe-to-toe with in battle and ultimately befriends. While he does not appear as frequently as some of the other characters, Crow acts as an older brother/mentor to Ganta late in the series. Two other Deadmen, Nagi and Karako, enlist Ganta's aid in hopes of leading a mass exodus from the prison facility.

Not all of the side characters are as well developed, though. Mockingbird is a Deadman whose name precedes him, as seemingly everyone has heard of him but only a few know any concrete details about him. He is not introduced until after the halfway point, and while the air of mystery about him is perpetuated, it is entirely setup for a second season. Makina is in charge of security, and is one of the first people to introduce Ganta to the hardships of Deadman Wonderland. Her distrust in Tamaki leads her to dig into the prison's history but what she digs up is left ambiguous. As a countermeasure to the Deadmen's rebellion, Tamaki hires an undertaker monk named Azuma Genkaku, who is by far the most shallow character in the show. There is practically zero substance to him other than the fact that he thoroughly enjoys killing. The final episode attempts to explore his childhood and round him out some, but the scene is so out of place and unnecessary that it significantly distracts the flow of the finale.

Throughout, the series attempts to explore a host of characters and their individual subplots to shed light on how they are tied to Deadman Wonderland. One such is the relationship between Shiro and Deadman Wonderland's founder; another is Ganta's childhood. These present new and interesting information, and have so much potential to improve the larger story. Unfortunately, most of these subplots only go so far, yet the writers continue to open more doors. Many aspects of the series end up feeling only half-completed as a result.

Though Deadman Wonderland does kill off a number of extremely underdeveloped characters, the ones that stay alive are quite an enjoyable crew of misfits and rebels. The tragic circumstances that land Ganta inside of the prison draw out a very human tale, and his determination helps fuel both the action and the drama. As a whole, though, Deadman Wonderland is good from a conceptual stage - there is a sufficient amount of style and substance presented, but the writers seem at a loss as to what to do with it all.

My rating: 7.5 (out of 10)

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